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SXSW Panel: Indie Career Advice from Filmmakers Candler, Poyser and Zobel

SXSW Panel: Indie Career Advice from Filmmakers Candler, Poyser and Zobel

About halfway through the Sustaining a Career in Indie Film panel the filmmakers began talking about labs – Sundance, IFP, The Hamptons – and 80 percent of the audience began scribbling down notes. It seemed to be a session for real beginners, the people that haven’t quit three or more jobs to take on little film gigs that come up, or sat in a corporate office because they needed health insurance.

Regardless, there were tidbits of helpful information from three indie filmmakers – Bryan Poyser (whose “The Bounceback” has been well-received here), Kat Candler (“Hellion”) and Craig Zobel (“Compliance,” producer, “Prince Avalanche”) – who still don’t have health insurance or a retirement fund.

Pay rent or make a film?
Poyser: I’ve managed to barely pay it for the last 20 years. But it’s been a mix of things: When I was attending University of Texas I accidently started a film festival, and the university funded it partly and that gave me a bit to live on and eat Ramen. I worked at SXSW in early 2000s, but I ended up going corporate with a telecommunications company. I didn’t feel like I was a filmmaker there though, and I quit that job to produce and co-write. I ran out of money though and went back to the corporate job. Get a full time job ideally with benefits and then quit – that’s kind of my MO I guess. 

Candler: I worked at a bookstore for five years and made a tiny feature and saved up all my sick time and vacation time to do so. Then I worked at an Artificial Intelligence software company. I would finish my work by 10am and then for the next eight hours they were essentially funding my next feature. I got in trouble for making too many copies once, though. I sold a script 2 years ago, but that money doesn’t last. But despite making no money I wake up every day and say I freaking love what I do. I probably won’t be saying that when I’m looking for my retirement fund, though.

Zobel: You direct a movie, then you get the idea that you get to write and direct another right away, but it took flights out to Los Angeles and for things I wasn’t even that excited about. While “Compliance” was being edited I was a field producer on the HGTV show “Kitchen Cousins.” You definitely have to take those gigs.

The breaking point?
Poyser: It’s that point when all the people in your life start to turn off and roll their eyes when you begin talking about how you haven’t made a film in so long. It’s when you have to wonder if you’ll still have friends if you keep complaining that it’s been five years. You feel like you’re a racehorse at the gate and if the gate doesn’t open, you have to push it open.

Candler: Just because you’ve made one movie doesn’t mean they’ll come banging down your door for the next.

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